Last week the Turkish military purchased a staggering $682 million worth of BLU-109 from the U.S. military. It is a penetration bomb made to break through concrete shelters and other hardened and underground targets before exploding.
The invoice for this purchase equals roughly 10 percent of Turkey's defense budget, according to official statistics from 2015. It is the first time Turkey will acquire such weapons and delivery is expected in 2020. While one would think that the decision was made in reaction to the latest bloody violence perpetrated by the PKK, which is internationally recognized as a terrorist threat, the delivery date suggests a different motivation.
Ankara has felt the need to invest more in its own defense industry and rely on local production since the purchase of weapons from the U.S. has proven difficult and costly. Since the U.S. delayed the sale of these bombs for a long time and with the rising military threats near Turkey from Syria and Iraq, a renewed war in Ukraine and frozen conflicts in Georgia and Azerbaijan, Ankara chose to design the NEB, its own version of the bomb with multiple warhead system (MWS) technology, and has been testing its effectiveness since 2012.
While Washington has previously provided bunker busters to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates due to their worries over Iranian ambitions in the region, for some reason Washington dragged its feet to offer the purchase of the same products to Turkey.
Asked about the sudden U.S. policy change regarding the sale of BLU's, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Major Roger Cabiness downplayed the importance of the decision and said it is vital to U.S. national interest to assist a NATO ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability. He also said this sale would both enhance the Turkish Air Force's ability to defend itself and increase its capability to contribute to future NATO or anti-DAESH coalition operations.
Dr. Chris Kilford, former Canadian defense attache to Turkey from 2011 to 2014, said the Turkish government would want to have the bunker busters as a deterrent to any contingency that might arise, though they are not likely to be used against the PKK or any other regional power at present.
Two recent problems Ankara faced underlined the vulnerabilities of its military -the absence of long-range missile defense capability and an anti-aircraft missile system. One could ask since Turkey is a member of NATO and has the backing of the most modernized militaries in the world, why should Ankara worry about anything?
First, the NATO-mandated Patriot missile defense systems in the south of Turkey last year failed to shoot down a tactical missile fired from Syria. Fortunately, it landed in an empty field. Then the U.S. decided to pull the main bulk of the Patriot batteries from Turkey for insignificant reasons. Following Turkey's downing of the Russian jet that violated Turkish airspace, Russia made public its hardly covert deployment of an effective air defense system in Syria. Russia's S-400 has a range that covers most of Turkey's southern airspace. Since then, due to the anxiety caused by this system, Turkey stopped its air operations against DAESH positions in northern Syria. NATO offered little more than some shiny words, an insubstantial show of power, and showed itself to be rather cautious regarding the increase of the Russian presence in Syria.
Leading NATO members such as Germany and the U.S. want to avoid a military conflict with Russia at all costs and they are against any Turkish intervention in northern Syria, even against Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) positions despite the fact that the it seized new territories near Azaz at the expense of the moderate Syrian opposition and led to an influx of refugees along the Turkish border.
NATO members Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary feel sympathetic to Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies, a Der Spiegel report says, out of their own national economic interests. Greece, under the leadership of leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is also leaning toward the pro-Russia camp.
Wary of the pro-Russia camp within NATO and seriously suspicious of Greece's position in a possible military clash with Moscow in the region, it makes sense that Turkish officials decided on this large military acquisition and will continue to invest in production within its own borders as well.
Finally, it is clear that the perceived threats to Turkey's standing are having an unexpected outcome, that is, the Turkish military is once again increasing its influence within Turkish society.